Things to Do in Oregon
Located in the Deschutes National Forest, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument sprawls across 54,000 scenic acres in the high plains of Central Oregon. This natural wonder was once the site of the Newberry Volcano, which erupted over 75,000 years ago (and is still seismically active). It’s now filled with lakes, lava tubes, and geographical patterns, and visitors come to the area for hiking, camping, fishing, winter sports, and more.
Set along the Cascade Range outside Bend, Oregon, Deschutes National Forest is a go-to for all outdoor activities. This scenic recreation area includes numerous alpine and evergreen forests, lakes, and streams, extensive nature trails, and five designated wilderness areas. Spend a day or enjoy camp overnight in the warmer months.
The Columbia River Gorge, one of the great natural treasures of the Pacific Northwest with its many dramatic waterfalls, channels the mighty Columbia River through the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, marking much of the border between Oregon and Washington. The gorge figures in early United States history, as it was here that the Lewis and Clark expedition completed its final stretch in 1805. Today the area is popular with hikers, windsurfers, and wine lovers.
Multnomah Falls is Oregon’s tallest waterfall at 620 feet (189 meters) and one of the state’s top natural landmarks. The falls are made up of two waterfalls fed from Larch Mountain and are recognizable for their setting tucked into sheer rock faces. The cascades are made more fairytale-like by the Benson Bridge, which spans the top of the lower falls and provides great photo ops.
Best known for the towering Haystack Rock set just off the coastline, Cannon Beach is a quaint beach town nestled on the northern Oregon coast. Its bluff-top downtown harbors art galleries, specialty shops, seafood restaurants, and scenic views. Ample coastal trails offer opportunities to explore the seaside cliffs and beaches.
Portland is a city of bridges, and each bridge has its own story. The Steel Bridge has the distinction of being the only double-decker bridge in the world with independent lifts and was opened in 1912, spanning the Willamette River connecting Northwest and Northeast Portland. It carries not only car traffic but also pedestrians, bicycles, light rail, and trains. It was originally built to replace an 1888 bridge which had the same name.
Both of the decks of the bridge can rise independently of one another, although at times both must rise to allow larger boats to pass underneath the bridge. With the railroad on the lower deck, however, it's possible to lift the lower deck for smaller boats without disturbing the car traffic on the upper deck.
Of the many waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge, Latourell Falls is closest to Portland – which means it attracts plenty of visitors.
Most of the waterfalls in the Gorge have at least two levels, but Latourell Falls drops straight from its highest point to the bottom in one fall. Height estimates vary, but it's somewhere between 224-249 feet tall depending on what you read. The creek that makes up the waterfall, Latourell Creek, isn't very large, so in the dry summer months the waterfall can sometimes decrease to a trickle. In the winter, however, it's quite impressive.
Latourell Falls are named for a former postmaster general of nearby Rooster Rock in the late 1880s, Joseph Latourell, and are within the Guy W. Talbot State Park. The bottom of the falls is easily accessible – there's a parking lot nearby – and there's a two-mile trail to reach the top of the falls.
Portland’s Pearl District lives up to its evocative title. The small neighborhood in the heart of downtown is packed with local finds, from avant-garde art galleries to craft breweries to fine dining, with many establishments housed in renovated warehouse spaces. Plus, a bike- and pedestrian-friendly trail along the Willamette River accents the Pearl’s waterfront location.
Perhaps the most famous stop on the Historic Columbia River Highway, (and arguably its most scenic,) the iconic Vista House and rest stop was built as a tribute to early pioneers of Oregon lands. The observatory sits at the gateway to the Columbia River Gorge, offering sweeping views from its windows. Many stop in from the road to take in the surrounding cliffs, river, and fresh air, or watch boat traffic pass by through a telescope. When the weather permits there is also an outdoor balcony offering even greater views.
Eight panels of the house’s interior tell the history behind Vista House’s construction and use, as well as the geology of the gorge. Much of its interior is covered in Alaskan marble, and its dome is made of beautiful copper. The stone, octagonal structure was built from 1916-1918 and is now listed as an Oregon State Park and on the National Register of Historic Places. The beloved building and setting is widely regarded to be one of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest.
A short jaunt southwest from downtown Portland, the Willamette Valley is known by wine lovers worldwide for its delectable pinot noirs, often produced in small batches. This picturesque region is also dotted with tasting rooms and is a popular spot for wine-tasting excursions from Portland.
More Things to Do in Oregon
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the Camp 18 Logging Museum is just a themed restaurant, but all of that logging memorabilia on display is serious business.
The sprawling log cabin-style building that is the Camp 18 Restaurant & Museum is on Highway 26 between Portland and Cannon Beach in the town of Elsie. It was built slowly, starting in the 1970s, as one man's personal dream. He is a former logger and mill owner who personally logged all of the timber used in the building. Don't miss the huge log beam that runs the length of the building – it's 85 feet long, the biggest ridgepole in the United States.
Around the restaurant building as well as inside, you'll see antique logging equipment, tools, other artifacts, and art on display. Near the restaurant is the Camp 18 Loggers' Memorial, honoring loggers who have died and featuring more exhibits of logging memorabilia.
The Mt. Hood National Forest covers more than one million acres, including lakes, wilderness areas, mountains, and of course – a vast forest.
First established in 1892 as the Bull Run Forest Reserve, the area was expanded and eventually the name was changed to its current Mt. Hood National Forest in 1924. The forest area extends into six different Oregon counties, is managed by four district offices, has eight designated wilderness areas, and includes 170 recreation sites. Visitors can go hiking, mountain biking, boating, fishing, hunting, camping, mountain climbing, skiing, and horseback riding in the National Forest, among other things. Part of the Pacific Crest Trail crosses into the National Forest.
The towering peak of Mt. Hood – the tallest point in the state – sits in the northern part of the National Forest, and Timberline Lodge has year-round skiing. The forest area stretches from the Columbia River Gorge south about 60 miles through the Willamette Valley, making it a popular destination for people from Portland as well as other cities in Oregon.
Designed for science fans of all ages, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) features five separate halls, eight hands-on science labs, a real submarine, an OmniMax giant-screen theater, and a planetarium. The museum is a science playground, with 200-plus interactive exhibits covering subjects such as climate change, chemistry, the human body, and technology.
Just outside of Portland, Mt. Hood stands at a majestic 11,249 feet (3,429 meters), making it Oregon’s tallest mountain. The dormant volcano often has steam rising from its fumaroles, adding to the serenity of the surrounding vista. Adventure-seekers who opt to climb the mountain all the way to its summit are rewarded with 12 glaciers at the peak—plus stunning views of the Cascade mountain range, and the valleys and cities below.
Free, outdoors, and centrally located, the International Rose Test Garden is an easy addition to your Portland vacation. Take time to smell some of the 10,000 roses representing 650 species when you stroll through the active test garden, located in Portland’s popular Washington Park.
Situated on the Oregon side of the scenic Columbia River Gorge, Wahkeena Falls cascades 242 feet (74 meters) in tiers through lush green forest. It’s one of the most popular waterfalls in the area, not only because of its beauty, but also because getting to it requires only a very short hike.
Driving around the bend from Portland, the first view many see of the Columbia River Gorge is from the corner of land called Crown Point. The outlook provides an overview of the dramatic scenery and surrounding canyon. On a clear day there is a panoramic view of the heavily forested area, the mountains, and the Columbia River.
The point itself is an enormous rock formation that was caused by multiple lava flows, which once altered the course of the river. Looking to the west, you can see Rooster Rock, another well-loved rock formation that slopes down into the canyon.
With the Vista House constructed on Crown Point at the same time the highway was being formed, it remains one of the best loved visitor stops on the historic Columbia River Gorge Highway and is considered the gateway to the area. Crown Point was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1971. It remains a popular stop for both views and refreshments.
Forty miles east of Portland, the Bonneville Lock and Dam spans the Columbia River, providing electricity, a navigation lock, fish passage, and recreation areas.
The dam's first powerhouse, spillway, and original navigation lock were completed in 1938 to improve navigation on the Columbia River and provide hydropower to the Pacific Northwest. A second powerhouse was completed in 1981, and a larger navigation lock in 1993.
Lake Bonneville was created behind the dam, and is a popular spot for summer activities like boating and fishing. Fish ladders, part of the original construction, provide pathways for salmon, steelhead, and other native fish navigate past the dam to spawn upstream. Large underwater windows can be found at both the Bradford Island Visitor Center (on the Oregon side) and the Washington Shore Visitor Complex for viewings between April and October.
Locally known as “Portland's Living Room,” Pioneer Courthouse Square sits at the heart of downtown and takes up an entire city block.
Pioneer Square was officially opened in 1984. Prior to that, it had been the site of a hotel (built in 1890) and later a two-story parking garage. When a new and much larger parking garage was proposed in 1969, the idea of creating a public square instead gained momentum, and was the beginning of Pioneer Square. The square takes its name from the nearby Pioneer Courthouse, built in 1875.
One side of the square is a sloped staircase, akin to theater seating and perfect for the many concerts held in the square each year. There is a local TV news station at the square, an information center for the city's public transportation system, outdoor chess tables, and a 33-foot-tall weathervane sculpture that changes at noon each day to show the following day's forecast.
Today, Pioneer Square is home to a multitude of special events throughout the year, including the annual Christmas tree lighting, plays, and concerts, as well as festivals for food, beer, and art. Particularly during the summer, the square is typically quite busy.
Inner Northwest Portland – specifically around NW 21st and NW 23rd – is one of the most popular in the city center for shopping, entertainment, and dining. It also has a memorable nickname: the Alphabet District.
You might not notice the reason for the name immediately, especially if you're taking your time meandering from one shop-lined block to another, but the streets in the quadrant that run east-west are in alphabetical order – from Burnside, Couch, Davis, Everett, and Flanders on up through Wilson. There's an A street further east (Alder), but it doesn't continue up far enough to be part of this district.
The Alphabet District is historically one of Portland's most desirable neighborhoods – there are beautiful Victorian-style houses in the residential blocks and sought-after condo buildings. One of the city's oldest independent movie theaters, Cinema 21, is on NW 21st Avenue. Nature lovers may enjoy staying in this part of the city because of its ready access to Portland's huge city park, Forest Park, which stretches into the hills west of the neighborhood.
Once home to Henry and Georgiana Pittock, Portland’s original power couple, the Pittock Mansion sits on 46 acres (18.6 hectares) of land and contains exhibits featuring artwork and artifacts from the early 1900s. The house is perched on a hill 1,000 feet (305 meters) above downtown and offers sweeping views of Portland and the Cascade Range.
Located in Astoria, near the Pacific Ocean and the mouth of the Columbia, the Columbia River Maritime Museum is well-known for its excellent collection of maritime artifacts.
The museum opened in 1963, and was moved into its current home in 1982 as the collection expanded. The purpose-built structure sits – appropriately – right on the waterfront, which means the collection can include ships that are still in the water. A renovation in 2001-2002 expanded the space further, and the museum now includes interactive exhibits.
The collection includes a 1950s lightship (essentially a floating lighthouse), two U.S. Coast Guard motor lifeboats, and the bridge of a World War II warship. There are exhibits about maritime weaponry, clothing, figureheads, and gear. Interactive exhibits give visitors a chance to try their hand at piloting a tugboat and joining a Coast Guard rescue on the Columbia River.
Dedicated in 1963, the Portland Japanese Garden has long been the spot to join others—both visitors and locals—in a quest for tranquility. Meditate by a waterfall and walk the paths that lead to nine themed garden areas. Don't miss the cultural village, designed by contemporary Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
Encompassing an entire city block in downtown Portland, Powell’s City of Books is the world’s largest independent new and used bookstore and a top attraction for book lovers visiting the city. Here you’ll find upwards of a million books, including rare finds, first editions, and autographed copies of bestsellers and little-known titles alike, all under one roof.
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